Inside the Gates: Operation Santa mission accomplished

Despite weather delays and a global pandemic, Alaska National Guard completes Operation Santa for 65th straight year
The Alaska National Guard completes its 2020 Operation Santa mission to three remote communities
Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 3:04 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The target dates were Dec. 1 and 8, but the actual dates the Alaska National Guard was able to deliver gifts to three remote Alaska communities as part of Operation Santa were delayed just a bit.

“I think the team did a great job this year interacting with the communities and coordinating with the communities to make this happen in a COVID environment,” Alaska Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. James Nyquist said.

Three villages were chosen for this year’s Operation Santa: Birch Creek, a village with only five children; Stevens Village, a community with nine children and Nanwalek, which is home to over 200 people.

“The neat thing is for them to see that new stuff,” Nyquist said. “It’s not something they put on a Christmas list.”

For the first two deliveries, weather delayed the delivery date by one day to Dec. 2. The gifts were flown from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to Fairbanks International Airport, ground transported to Fort Wainwright and loaded to an Army Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter for the final delivery.

The delivery to Nanwalek, located south of Homer and Halibut Cove, was done with a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter. Weather delayed the flight by three days. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, the Chinook didn’t make it out of the hangar. On Wednesday the 9th, the Chinook made it to Halibut Cove before turning around to Homer because of weather. The weather put a stop to an attempt of Thursday the 10th but the Alaska National Guard was finally able to break through with positive weather on Friday, Dec. 11.

“A big thing is the planning in Alaska just due to the size alone,” CH-47 Chinook Pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kevan Katkus said. “You can cross over several different weather environments. We’re not allowed to fly in real icy conditions because we really don’t have de-ice capabilities on this aircraft.”

The Chinook is maneuvered to avoid serious weather which includes, fog, ice and snow. Its missions mostly revolve around the weather.

“It’s one of those things that’s always hard,” Katkus said. “You want to complete that mission, you want to go out and do what you’re suppose to do that day, but, there’s another crew, to make sure everybody is safe, you want everyone to go home, come home at night so, that kinda takes first and foremost in our minds.”

Although a little late, the Alaska National Guard with much help from volunteers and the Salvation Army, was able to complete Operation Santa for the 65th consecutive year without a fail.

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